Waltowa Wetland Geophysical Study – By Dave Ross

Blog Post 1 – Study Aims /Site Location and Details/  Industry Partner

The main focus of my directed study is the detection of submerged (intact) heat retainer hearths, which are a type of earth oven used in the past by Aboriginal people to cook food. Within Ngarrindjeri country a fire was typically made in a scooped out depression and stones thrown in to the point where they retain a lot of heat; the stones were then moved to form a base layer for cooking on.  I aim to find these hearths (ideally intact) with two types of geophysical instrument: one being ground penetrating radar (GPR) and the other a gradiometer. As GPR and gradiometry are very different methods I’m hoping to establish which method is most suitable for detecting hearths, or whether both will be successful and complement each other. It may even be the case that both methods are unsuitable for detecting hearths in an undulating sand dune environment.

My study area is located in the Waltowa Wetland, which is approximately 15 km from the town of Meningee in South Australia’s south east. In particular I am working within Tatiara Station. Tatiara Station is approximately 8500 acres of wetland and contains a series of blowouts and dunes, although most dunes have been stabilised by a cover of pastoral grasses. The land is primarily used as an area to farm cattle by the McClure family who own it. Waltowa Wetland contains a lot of archaeological evidence of past Aboriginal occupation, which has been recorded as part of ongoing research by Kelly Wiltshire, a PhD candidate at Flinders University.



Figure 1 – Top map indicating Tatiara Stations location on the Fleurieu Peninsula

Figure2 – Bottom map indicating the research areas within Tatiara Station .

My industry partner for this project is the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority Inc., also known as the NRA. The NRA represents communities and organisations that currently make up the Ngarrindjeri Nation and the current individual Native Title claimants of the Ngarrindjeri and Others Native Title Claim. This project is being undertaken as part of the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority’s Ngarrindjeri Yarluwar-Ruwe Program, which co-ordinates and manages all active heritage programs and research actively undertaken within Ngarrindjeri country.

            As an initial part of the Directed Study I ran a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) training workshop with the NRA to provide training and contribute to NRA’s capacity building program. The NRA have just recently purchased a new GPR and we both thought it would be a great opportunity to share some of my knowledge and experiences with the people who are likely to work with the GPR in the future. I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve been working with GPR for about 6 years so I was pretty confident I could show the NRA a ‘few tricks of the trade.’ The workshop was run over one day and consisted of three topics: GPR theory, practical and data processing and interpretation. The feedback from the workshop was great!! To be honest it was easy to run, as everyone seemed to grasp the concepts very quickly and easily……and it was a Saturday!!



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